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Where things stand.

As part of the presentation a few posts back, Paul Elie discussed the rise of what he called the default position of atheism. We may actually be getting to the point where we are no longer Christ-haunted, culturally speaking. I mean, the Onion isn’t funny any more, so I’m not suggesting that you’re going to chuckle over this bit, but it still has some cultural significance, I think. Maybe.


  1. This item backs into – well, OK, more or less accidentally removes the emergency brake from the dump truck parked on the sloping driveway which, gathering an alarming rate of speed, plows into – the question about the Onion’s intended target(s):

    Sometimes I think it’s believers.
    Sometimes I think it’s non-believers.
    Sometimes I think it’s the media.
    Sometimes I think it’s consumers of the media.
    Sometimes I think it’s politicians.
    Sometimes I think it’s those who place their hopes in politicians.
    Sometimes I think it’s possible to hit more than one bird with the satirical stone.
    Sometimes I think it’s impossible to hit more than one target at a time.

    Just what the hell did that boy learn in Richland Center High School, anyway?


  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Everywhere within the modern world [the Christian] found ideas and values whose Christian origin was clear, but which were declared the common property of all. How could he trust a situation like that? But the new age will do away with these ambivalences; the new age will declare that the secularized facets of Christianity are sentimentalities. This declaration will clear the air. The world to come will be filled with animosity and danger, but it will be a world open and clean. This danger within the new world will also have its cleansing effect upon the new Christian attitude, which in a special way must possess both trust and courage.

    Men have often said that Christianity is a refuge from the realities of the modern world, and this charge contains a good measure of truth, not only because dogma fixes the thought of a Christian on an objective, timeless order and creates a life which survives the passing of the ages, but also because the Church has preserved a full cultural tradition which would otherwise have died. The world to come will present less basis for objecting to Christianity as a refuge. […]

    Christianity will once again need to prove itself deliberately as a faith which is not self-evident; it will be forced to distinguish itself more sharply from a dominantly non-Christian ethos. At that juncture the theological significance of dogma will begin a fresh advance; similarly will its practical and existential significance increase. […] The absolute experiencing of dogma will, I believe, make men feel more sharply the direction of life and the meaning of existence itself. […]

    [M]an’s unconditional answer to the call of God assumes within that very act the unconditional quality of the demand which God makes of him and which necessitates maturity of judgment, freedom and choice.

    Here too we dare to hope. […]

    Guardini, Romano. Excerpt from The End of the Modern World.

  3. Angelico Nguyen says

    [T]he believer is always threatened with an uncertainty that in moments of temptation can suddenly and unexpectedly cast a piercing light on the fragility of the whole that usually seems so self-evident to him. […] That lovable Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who looks so naïve and unproblematical, grew up in an atmosphere of complete religious security […]. To her, ‘religion’ really was a self-evident presupposition of her daily existence […]. Yet this very saint, a person apparently cocooned in complete security, left behind her, from the last weeks of her passion, shattering admissions that her horrified sisters toned down in her literary remains and that have only now come to light in the new verbatim editions. She says, for example, ‘I am assailed by the worst temptations of atheism’. Her mind is beset by every possible argument against the faith; the sense of believing seems to have vanished […]. In other words, in what is apparently a flawlessly interlocking world someone here suddenly catches a glimpse of the abyss lurking — even for her — under the firm structure of the supporting conventions. […] What is at stake is the whole structure; it is a question of all or nothing. That is the only remaining alternative; nowhere does there seem anything to cling to in this sudden fall. Wherever one looks, only the bottomless abyss of nothingness can be seen. […]

    If, on the one hand, the believer can perfect his faith only on the ocean of nihilism, temptation, and doubt, if he has been assigned the ocean of uncertainty as the only possible site for his faith, on the other, the unbeliever is not to be understood undialectically as a mere man without faith. Just as we have already recognized that the believer does not live immune to doubt but is always threatened by the plunge into the void, so now we can discern the entangled nature of human destinies and say that the nonbeliever does not lead a sealed-off, self-sufficient life, either. […] Just as the believer knows himself to be constantly threatened by unbelief, which he must experience as a continual temptation, so for the unbeliever faith remains a temptation and a threat to his apparently permanently closed world. In short, there is no escape from the dilemma of being a man.

    Ratzinger, Joseph. Introduction to Christianity, pp. 42-45.

    See also.

    • Matthew Lickona says

      Yeah. Thanks. I will miss Benedict so. Excuse me, I’ve got some modernity in my eye…

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        I’ll miss him too. He ‘gets’ it.

        As an expert on motes in other people’s eyes — though I could be wrong here — I do suspect that your discomfort has less (though surely still some) to do with the modernity in your eye, than with the humanity of your eye. Here’s more Ratzinger, more Introduction to Christianity, pp. 49-50:

        Let us have no illusions; entering into that ‘I’ of the creed formula, transforming that schematic ‘I’ of the formula into the flesh and blood of the personal ‘I’, was always an unsettling and seemingly impossible affair; often, instead of the schema’s being filed with flesh and blood, the ‘I’ itself was transformed into a schema. And when today as believers in our own age we hear it said, a little enviously perhaps, that in the Middle Ages everyone without exception in our lands was a believer, it is a good thing to cast a glance behind the scenes, as we can today, thanks to historical research. This will tell us that even in those days there was the great mass of nominal believers and a relatively small number of people who had really entered into the inner movement of belief. It will show us that for many belief was only a ready-made mode of life, by which for them the exciting adventure really signified by the word credo was at least as much concealed as disclosed. This is simply because there is an infinite gulf between God and man; because man is fashioned in such a way that his eyes are only capable of seeing what is not God, and thus for man God is and always will be the essentially invisible, something lying outside his field of vision.

      • Yeah, except for all that downplaying of blood reparation.


  4. The Duffer says

    Yeah, that was not funny at all. One really mundane “joke” beaten to a smarmy pulp.

    This one’s better in terms of the default atheist bumping into the sacred:

    • Matthew Lickona says

      The Onion of today strikes me as being similar to the Community of today: following the departure of the people who provided its heart and soul (writers/creators), it soldiers on, remembering the formulas that used to make things funny, but unable to conjure the necessary elements.

      Good call on the McSweeney’s piece. What’s kind of interesting is, in reading various, um, comboxes (I know, I know) about Elie’s editorial in the Times, I have come to the conclusion that there are a good many Catholics who have precisely this notion: that being pope is entirely political. They don’t have to take anything the pope says at face value, because they never take anything a politician says at face value.

      • Actually, if we look at it from St. Augustine’s point of view, the papacy is almost entirely political – mostly he’s serving as a sort of Ellis Island customs agent ready to give us civic lessons on the City of God…Where it is, how to get there, what to do once you get there, etc.


        • Matthew Lickona says

          Fair ’nuff. But that’s supposing that there is a City of God, which I’m not sure is what’s going on in these people’s heads.

      • The Duffer says

        I made the mistake of spending some time in the Patheos Progressive Christian portal the other day. If you really want to get a sense that God is dead, that’s the place to do it. No sense of humor.

        (I’m seeing a correlation here between the death of God and the death of comedy–didn’t Ellen write something about this?).

        Forget about the pope. They don’t take anything Jesus says at face value. Everyone has to improve on him, “find a new vocabulary,” take the old politics out of the Bible, and in so doing, embrace a gospel that’s inevitably defined by their own political blind-spots.

        The pagans have more faith…

        • Matthew Lickona says

          Well said. I read one progressive recently who cataloged the great number of cardinals who have cited the need for reform in the Vatican. And it’s hard to fault the progressive tendency to muckrake – they have any number of saints to emulate in that regard. Yay progressives! But then you encounter things like the things you mention, and you think, “Why do you bother? Are they the words of everlasting life or aren’t they?”
          I’m sure I’m being too simplistic here. I’m a bit bruised these days.

        • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

          Lack of sense of humor is irritating at best, ominous at worst.

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